Indian Turtle Smugglers are nabbed in Malaysia
An official shows off baby star turtles from India. The reptiles are popular as pets and frequently trafficked around the region. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The plight of turtles in Malaysia continues. Exhibit A: Four Indian men were detained in two separate sting operations for possessing a total of 1,070 exotic and endangered turtles belonging to several species.
In one of the raids, two Indian nationals were nabbed by Wildlife Crime Unit officials at a house in Petaling Jaya. The two men were found to have 1,011 star tortoises and 23 Indian roofed turtles in their possession. The reptiles would have been worth around RM600,000 on the black market.
During a second, follow-up raid, this one conducted at a budget hotel in Kuala Lumpur, another two Indian men were found to be “in possession of 36 black pond turtles in four bags without valid documents,” wildlife officials said. The suspects will be facing charges of possessing protected wildlife without proper permits under Section 68 of Malaysia’s Wildlife Protection Act of 2010. If convicted, they face a prison term of up to three years or a maximum fine of RM100,000, or both.
The turtles had been smuggled into the country by a South Asian wildlife trafficking ring. They had been delivered in luggage bags by air and were on the verge of being sent on to other destinations in smaller shipments. The Indian men had reportedly been awaiting orders in a rented house about where to send the turtles when they were detained.
Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) are popular as exotic pets thanks to their bumpy shells with radiating patterns of yellow and black that resemble stars. They are native to India, Sri Lanka and parts of Pakistan and are widely considered to be among the most attractive tortoises in the world. Indian roofed turtles (Pangshura tecta), so named for their oddly shaped carapace elevated in the middle, are also popular as exotic pets. The animals live in freshwater rivers in South Asia and are regularly trafficked. Relentless poaching and habitat loss have decimated their numbers.
Black pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) are likewise highly prized on the exotic pet market because of their eye-catching wedged shells and black skins embellished with polka-dot patterns. They are facing the threat of going extinct in the wild as a result of rampant poaching.
Meanwhile, even as some wildlife traffickers smuggle protected turtles into Malaysia, other ones try to smuggle other protected turtles, or their eggs, out of the country. Just a few days ago another four men, these ones from the Philippines, were arrested in Sabah for trying to smuggle 19,000 sea turtle eggs out of Malaysia.
Depressing? Most certainly.
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The seizure of 1000 endangered and exotic turtles by Perhilitan underscores a very serious problem – that of the booming exotic pet trade. This is a multibillion dollar wildlife trade where animals are illegally trafficked, with wild caught individuals often mislabelled as “captive bred.” The chances of getting caught are so slim and the financial gains are so huge that exotic animal traffickers gladly take the risks with breaking the law, since penalties are little more than a monetary fine or in extreme cases, a shot jail stray.
Attempts to regulate and control the trade have globally failed. The problem is getting worse and worse and time is running out! Investigations to find the masterminds behind the trade in these tortoises should be initiated.
From the highest social stratum to the ordinary man on the street, the novelty and thrill of owning a unique exotic animal often drive these people to purchase these exotics to feed their fetish or simply to keep up with the Joneses. By doing so, it is allowing this trade, supposedly regulated by the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) to happen. Honestly speaking no one has any idea as to whether the trade is sustainable. The combined reported output from the few breeding centres cannot account for the large volume of individuals traded, so one can assume that majority of animals are illegally sourced from the wild.
The illegal trade is particularly devastating because of the number of animals which die along the supply chain. As many as three animals may die for everyone that makes it to the buyers alive. Normally exotic pet “lovers” are ignorant to the level of abuse coupled with the injustices and scale of the “modern” pet industry. No matter what species, exotic pets suffer from a multitude of stressors and maladies – from commercial handling by dealers to cage confinement by ignorant hobbyists or collectors and fed with the wrong diet lacking of nutrients with death as the end result.
At the end of the day, those involved in exotic pet keeping create alien environments by dumping their pets in the local environment, causing havoc to pristine wildlife. A perfect example of an exotic species that thrives well in our local ponds is the red eared slider.
With millions of live animals traded legally throughout the globe each year and countless more sold on the black market, the pet shop trade is thriving but the same cannot be said for the animals caught up in it.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has always been consistent and firm on its stand against pet shops due to the deplorable conditions of animals, reptiles and amphibians kept in unconducive environment. They are only into profits without any regard for animal welfare.
Perhilitan too, is even encouraging buyers to own animals with its varying licence fees from as low as RM3. It would be interesting to note how Perhilitan ascertain that an exotic animal is captive bred before they can be sold in shops as stipulated under the law.
The lax of control by Perhilitan has even emboldened pet shop traders who are taking advantage of Perhilitan’s total absence of monitoring and control by assuring buyers that “They (the authorities) won’t check your house lah.” Such words gave doubt on the competency of Perhililtan in protecting and managing wildlife species and even on-line trade.
The trade also implies a misleading message by treating animals as commodities. In this way children are taught the wrong concept that animals can be removed from their natural biological communities.
SAM urges for an end to the breeding, trading, sale of wild animals, issuing of licences, and to teach the buyers that wild animals belong in the wild not in homes.